Lyla Hage Reviews Not-So-Average History of Greed, Corruption, Politics and Injustice
Madness, Mayhem and Murder
As a child, the historical books I knew were long on dates, names and detailed descriptions of politics, military battles and more. On occasion, a story about a foregone time or a controversial character captured my imagination. Sometimes there was a reference to a familiar event or setting, but more often than not, historical books were heavy on facts and light on fun and intrigue.
The same cannot be said for Dean Jobb’s Madness, Mayhem and Murder. As the title implies, this is not your average historical book.
In his sequel to 2020’s Daring, Devious and Deadly, Jobb offers readers more entertaining stories, with a dash of dirt, about the darker side of life in Nova Scotia. The stories take place just after the founding of Halifax in 1749, up to the early 20thcentury, and detail criminal and sometimes ghastly deeds from long ago.
After reading the book’s title, with its alluring alliteration, the real fun begins with the titles of the book’s 16 stories on the contents page. There are titles like “Royal Terror,” about an unsuccessful plan to blow up a British warship in Halifax and kill a prince—the future King George V.
There’s “One Woman’s Fight to be Heard,”wherereaders learn about a Cape Breton woman’s fight for her land, in a case that eventually went to the Supreme Court of Canada. In “The Predator,”Jobb tells the sordid tale of a soldier who once lived in Halifax and was eventually hanged in England for the mysterious death of two of his wives and a lover.
In “First Blood,”Jobbs tells how in 1749, a newly established Halifax had to contend with their first murder and trial.And in“King of the Privateers,”Jobb details some of the rich and sometimes controversial history of Nova Scotia’s privateers, including Liverpool’s Joseph Barss, Jr.
Jobb’s stories take readers back to a forgotten time, when duels were used to quickly and dramatically settle disputes, murder scenes were easily compromised due to lack of knowledge and technology, and people were captivated by public hangings, which were often enjoyed as social, family affairs. Jobb’s true tales cover how religious violence and hate between Catholics and Protestants was the order of the day, and how the justice system sometimes made decisions and handed out verdicts with questionable motives and methods.
It was easy to dive into the stories and fun to learn little-known details about Nova Scotia’s crime and justice-filled past. Reading each story, I felt a mix of excitement and a touch of shame, knowing I would enjoy all of the juicy details about a colourful cast of characters in sometimes dangerous and unfortunate situations.
While reading, I imagined my grandfather, who would have been 100 years old this year. A lover of maritime and military history, he would have relished the stories of near disaster in the Halifax Harbour, drama on the high seas and murder in small-town Nova Scotia. I suspect Grandad would chuckle at some of the characters and their actions and shake his head at how much of basic human nature has not changed.
Although some of the incidents took place more than 200 years ago, similar stories of madness, mayhem and murder could easily be written today. The specifics may differ, but, as our daily newsfeeds show, themes of greed, corruption, politics, injustice and discrimination remain today, making this a relatable and, at times, reflective read.
Jobb’s short stories, though descriptive, left me wanting more—more details, descriptions and context. I found myself searching online for more information on the people, their history, the locations, and more.
Throughout the book, Jobb includes a handful of photos of some of the people and locations in his stories. I was left wishing for more photos to help further bring the stories to life. This read is a welcome distraction for those wanting an escape, however briefly, to a different time and place in our history.